Psychologist or Psychiatrist: Which Mental Health Professional Will Suit Your Needs?

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Psychologist-or-Psychiatrist-Which-Mental-Health-Professional-Will-Suit-Your-Needs Psychologist or Psychiatrist: Which Mental Health Professional Will Suit Your Needs?
Woman having a conversation with her therapist

Patients often enjoy the ability to select counseling and mental health care services on a discretionary basis. For instance, many parents appreciate the ability to seek Play Care Therapy for their children as a form of counseling in Sioux Falls. The topic of mental health counseling itself may give rise to curiosity concerning the differences between psychologists and psychiatrists, a confusing subject for some members of the public.

Psychologists and Psychiatrists

Psychologists run the gamut from people holding a bachelor’s degree in psychology to trained clinical psychologists who earn a Ph.D. while handling cases under the personal direction of a psychologist who actively consults with patients. Unlike psychiatrists, however, psychologists are not medical doctors. They have not attended medical school.

A psychiatrist in the United States by contrast has typically attended four years of medical school after graduating from college, and then passed medical boards to become an M.D. Then this physician undertakes a year-long internship at a hospital before completing a two- to four-year specialized residency treating patients with medical illnesses in a medical setting. To become a full-fledge psychiatrist, a doctor with this advanced training must also pass additional specialized medical board examinations in psychiatry.

Mental Health Specialist and Their Skills

The limited availability of well-qualified clinical psychologists and psychiatrists places both groups of professionals in high demand today. Since many states permit counseling by employees possessing only a limited formal education, especially when conducting activities on behalf of state or other governmental agencies, only the most seriously ill patients in some locations consult regularly on a discretionary basis with either a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist.

Yet in the past, most states have specified that only psychiatrists can perform certain clinical functions and make certain medical diagnoses. Psychiatrists typically possess full prescribing authority because, unlike psychologists and other mental health counselors, they have taken extensive coursework in anatomy, pathology, pharmacology and surgery. A psychologist is typically best for someone who simply wants the therapy/counseling side of things, while a psychiatrist works well for someone who wants to try medications for their conditions.

Obtaining Treatment

In general, families of people with the most serious mental illnesses seek to place these individuals under the care of psychiatrists because these professionals possess the medical skills required to address physical symptoms comprehensively. Since the full scope of a prospective patient’s illness may remain unknown until an extensive case work up, some seriously ill patients likely visit multiple mental health care providers during the course of treatment.

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